George W. Bush: Toward Global Democracy

Why should the United States strive to successfully introduce democracy all over the Middle East?

November 19, 2003

Why should the United States strive to successfully introduce democracy all over the Middle East?

U.S. President George W. Bush has embarked on a mission to democratize the Middle East. While he strives to present himself as a visionary, others are skeptical about the realism of his ambitions. Yet, the same was true when Ronald Reagan predicted the near end of communism in 1982. Our Globalist Document presents the President’s views.

We have witnessed, in little over a generation, the swiftest advance of freedom in the 2,500-year story of democracy. Historians in the future will offer their own explanations for why this happened.

Yet we already know some of the reasons they will cite.

It is no accident that the rise of so many democracies took place in a time when the world’s most influential nation was itself a democracy.

Our commitment to democracy is tested in the Middle East, which must be a focus of American policy for decades to come.

In many nations of the Middle East — countries of great strategic importance — democracy has not yet taken root.

And the questions arise: Are the people of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of liberty? Are millions of men and women and children condemned by history or culture to live in despotism?

Are they alone never to know freedom, and never even to have a choice in the matter? I, for one, do not believe it. I believe every person has the ability and the right to be free.

It should be clear to all that Islam — the faith of one-fifth of humanity — is consistent with democratic rule.

Democratic progress is found in many predominantly Muslim countries — in Turkey and Indonesia, and Senegal and Albania, Niger and Sierra Leone.

Muslim men and women are good citizens of India and South Africa, of the nations of Western Europe — and of the United States of America.

More than half of all the Muslims in the world live in freedom under democratically constituted governments.

They succeed in democratic societies — not in spite of their faith — but because of it. A religion that demands individual moral accountability — and encourages the encounter of the individual with God — is fully compatible with the rights and responsibilities of self-government.

Yet, there’s a great challenge today in the Middle East. In the words of a recent report by Arab scholars, the global wave of democracy has “barely reached the Arab states.”

They continue: “This freedom deficit undermines human development — and is one of the most painful manifestations of lagging political development.”

The freedom deficit they describe has terrible consequences, for the people of the Middle East — and for the world. In many Middle Eastern countries, poverty is deep and it is spreading, women lack rights and are denied schooling.

Whole societies remain stagnant, while the world moves ahead. These are not the failures of a culture or a religion. These are the failures of political and economic doctrines.

As the colonial era passed, the Middle East saw the establishment of many military dictatorships. Some rulers adopted the dogmas of socialism, seized total control of political parties, the media — and universities.

They allied themselves with the Soviet bloc and with international terrorism. Dictators in Iraq and Syria promised the restoration of national honor, a return to ancient glories. They’ve left instead a legacy of torture, oppression, misery — and ruin.

Other men — and groups of men — have gained influence in the Middle East and beyond through an ideology of theocratic terror.

Behind their language of religion is the ambition of absolute political power. Ruling cabals like the Taliban show their version of religious piety in public whippings of women, ruthless suppression of any difference or dissent — and support for terrorists who arm and train to murder the innocent.

The Taliban promised religious purity and national pride. Instead, by systematically destroying a proud and working society, they left behind suffering and starvation.

Many Middle Eastern governments now understand that military dictatorship and theocratic rule are a straight, smooth highway to nowhere. But some governments still cling to the old habits of central control.

There are governments that still fear and repress independent thought and creativity, and private enterprise — the human qualities that make up strong and successful societies.

Even when these nations have vast natural resources, they do not respect or develop their greatest resources — the talent and energy of men and women working and living in freedom.

Instead of dwelling on past wrongs and blaming others, governments in the Middle East need to confront real problems — and serve the true interests of their nations.

The good and capable people of the Middle East all deserve responsible leadership. For too long, many people in that region have been victims and subjects — they deserve to be active citizens.

For the Palestinian people, the only path to independence and dignity and progress is the path of democracy.

And the Palestinian leaders who block and undermine democratic reform and feed hatred and encourage violence are not leaders at all. They’re the main obstacles to peace — and to the success of the Palestinian people.

As we watch and encourage reforms in the region, we are mindful that modernization is not the same as Westernization. Representative governments in the Middle East will reflect their own cultures. They will not — and should not — look like us.

Democratic nations may be constitutional monarchies, federal republics, or parliamentary systems.

Working democracies always need time to develop — as did our own. We’ve taken a 200-year journey toward inclusion and justice — and this makes us patient and understanding as other nations are at different stages of this journey.

This is a massive and difficult undertaking. It is worth our effort, it is worth our sacrifice — because we know the stakes.

The failure of Iraqi democracy would embolden terrorists around the world, increase dangers to the American people — and extinguish the hopes of millions in the region.

Iraqi democracy will succeed — and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Tehran — that freedom can be the future of every nation. The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution.

Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe — because in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty.

As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment and violence ready for export.

And with the spread of weapons that can bring catastrophic harm to our country and our friends, it would be reckless to accept the status quo.

Therefore, the United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. This strategy requires the same persistence and energy and idealism we have shown before. And it will yield the same results. As in Europe, Asia, and every region of the world, the advance of freedom leads to peace.

The advance of freedom is the calling of our time — it is the calling of our country. From the Fourteen Points to the Four Freedoms, to the Speech at Westminster, America has put our power at the service of principle.

We believe that liberty is the design of nature. We believe that liberty is the direction of history. We believe that human fulfillment and excellence come in the responsible exercise of liberty. And we believe that freedom — the freedom we prize — is not for us alone, it is the right and capacity of all mankind.

This Globalist Document is based on U.S. President George W. Bush’s speech at the 20th Anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy on November 6, 2003. For the full text of President Bush’s speech, click here.